She said ‘Don’t leave me alone. I can’t cope on my own.’
I promised to stay. We drink tea, converse about nothing. She says she’d like to sleep.
I watch over her.
Long ago she was a dancer, shape shifting beneath stage lights. If she was drunk she’d dance beneath the stars; the sun shone in her. She was loved. She’s quiet now, a hunk of bone and gristle.
Moves about on stiffening legs; catapults about the room.
‘Rancid,’ she says. ‘Cigarettes, sex, diet pills and alcohol done me in; write it big on my epitaph. I want the kids to know.’
‘Kids don’t visit graveyards.’ I insisted. ‘Anyway life can kill you too, look at you.’
‘No,’ she cried, ‘that’s a lie. You can die, yes, but first you’ve got to live to find what you’re searching for.’
‘And what’s that?’
I used to love her. I still do.
‘You fall in love too easily,’ she remarked.
It was like trying to capture a colour, a flavour, an essence and hold onto it purely for myself. She flew each morning, never remembering the way home.
‘Give me a child and then go away,’ she suggested, ‘I’ll make it easy on you.’
She failed to conceive, despite a concentrated approach to the method.
She used to swim. I’d watch her slip through water at speed, raising her face to breath. She’d drag herself out, excited and slippery beneath my attendant hands.
‘God, I want you.’ I’d gasp.
‘Do you want me now?’ she asked, when I reminded her.
‘You’re my friend.’ I smiled.
She appeared amused for half a minute, returning to her crossword.
I visit when I can, but she doesn’t need company. She watches TV in the afternoon but her thoughts remain far away; on him I guess. I never ask; she doesn’t want to talk about the years spent apart. ‘Another life,’ she says if asked. ‘Another woman too.’
‘Let’s preserve a distance, shall we.’ She grins. ‘Let’s just pretend.’
I’ll wait until she wakes to say goodbye. Some days are easier than others, getting up to leave.
‘If you were me, what would you do?’ I ask.
‘Put a pillow over your face.’ She smiles.
I try to treat the matter lightly, but I know she’s resigned to dying.
‘There’s a plot beside a Linden tree.’ She says. ‘You can watch swans across the lake. It’ll be magic.’
She grins childishly as I feel hot tears run down my face.
‘What will I do?’ I ask.
She doesn’t answer, looks away, seeking solace in the plaster Jesus above the fireplace.
‘Sorry.. She remarks. ‘It’s not up to me. Don’t be lonely.’
How could I not?
Her head is hanging forward, and sometimes I find it hard to know if she’s alive or dead. Her chest is hollow, breathing shallow. Does she need medical attention?
‘Don’t ever attempt to revive me,’ she insisted, ‘and no anxiety’.
‘A cup of tea?’
She nods her head. I’d like the weather to be better; snow on the ground. Another hard winter; when will spring break through?
She takes the cup with shaking fingers, sipping slowly.
‘Why don’t you go home now?’ She says. ‘I’ll be alright.’
‘And shall I come again tomorrow?’
‘If you like.’
I’ve thought about taking a long journey, setting out without a destination in mind just to see where I wind up.
‘You do that.’ She said. ‘Take a bit of me with you.’
She gave me a kiss. ‘Plant this, where it’s most needed.’
I need it most.
‘Remember when….?’ And sometimes I do, more often I don’t. I let her talk just to listen, as she relates a piece from her past. Someone she met; a party she attended or an event at which she performed.
We leave it at that, and as I take my leave realise not for the first time she’ll never be truly mine.
I want to be sad; I want to cry, but she won’t allow it. ‘No unhappiness.’ She scolds.
We never were star-crossed lovers, just friends who fell in and out of love’s intimacy of feeling. Those were the times, and nothing changed because of what we did or who we thought we were. A million others shared our fate, and few would want to live it over and again, except for need of sentiment.
And would I if pressed, yes probably if she was there and we were allowed a second chance. Is that so hard, so difficult to imagine?
I just don’t know.